Stamps for Music Lovers: Belgium's 2009 Masters of Music Issue

A set of five Belgium stamps, issued on My 11, 2009, includes the following composers: Henry Purcell, GF Handel, Joseph Haydn, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, and Clara Schumann. They were created from drawings by Belgian artist January Maesschalk. The stamps were issued as a sheetlet featuring one copy of each with a total value of 4.65 Euro. The stamp subjects overlap slightly and extend into the selvage, so many collectors will likely want to add the item as the complete sheetlet. The set is a nice addition to a music topical (thematic) stamp collection.

Henry Purcell, an English composer, was born in 1659. He came from a musical family; his father was a musician at Court, and his uncle also a musician, helped him become a chorister in the Chapel Royal (clergy, singers and vestry officers who serve the King) after his father's death.

Purcell began composing as a child and wrote an ode for the King's birthday in 1670 when he was eleven. He was twenty when he became the organist of Westminster Abbey. He wrote chamber music, stage music, and opera (Dido and Aeneas) in addition to his church and sacred music.

George Frideric Handel, composer of The Messiah, was born in Germany (1685), traveled extensively in Italy, and settled in England. He was the music director of the Royal Academy of Music, and composed over forty operas in his lifetime. His anthem, Zadoc the Priest, written for the coronation of George II has become a staple at British coronations.

When The Messiah was first performed in London, the King was so impressed by the Hallelujah Chorus that he stood for its duration, an honor that audiences have bestowed upon the piece ever since.

Handel died in 1759 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

Austrian composer, Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), sometimes called the Father of the Symphony and the Father of the String Quartet, had a rather sad childhood. Because he showed musical promise that his parents were not in a position to foster, when he was five or six years old he was apprenticed to Johann Frankh, who took him into his household. Although Frankh gave him some musical training, Haydn was not cared for very well and was often hungry and dirty.

He sang in the church choir, and when the director of music for St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna visited his town and heard him, he moved him to Vienna. Unfortunately, he didn't treat Haydn very well either, neither teaching him nor feeding him enough.

He left St. Stephen's when his voice changed and struggled along by teaching and composing. Fortunately he eventually was offered the job of assistant orchestra leader for Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy. Here he composed, conducted, performed and began writing symphonies. His most famous is The Surprise Symphony. The surprise is a sudden loud beat of the timpani. Although people believed it was designed to wake people in the audience who were falling asleep, Haydn denied this, explaining that "it was my wish to surprise the public with something new, and to make a debut in a brilliant manner."

Haydn also wrote for string quartets, and composed operas, choral works and stage music.

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, more commonly known as Felix Mendelssohn, was born in 1809 in Hamburg Germany. His family was Jewish, but his banker father wanted no part of the religion and had his children baptized as Lutherans. The addition of the name Bartholdy was an attempt to further distance the family from Judiasm, Mendelssohn being a Jewish name. Felix did not share his father's attitude and was proud of his Jewish grandfather, the Jewish philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn.

Felix was a successful musician even as a child. He performed publicly when he was nine years old and published a piano quartet when he was thirteen. Between the ages of twelve and fourteen he wrote his first 12 symphonies. In addition to symphonies, he wrote concertos, oratorios, piano works, and chamber music.

Mendelssohn was married to the daughter of a French clergyman and had five children with her. Although they remained married, he became infatuated with Jenny Lind, a Swedish opera singer whom he worked with and for whom he wrote some music.

And speaking of marriage, one cannot write about Mendelssohn without mentioning his most famous work, a piece that launched many of us on our married life: the Wedding March from A Midsummer's Night Dream.

He died young. He was only 38 when in 1847 he died after a series of strokes.

When somebody mentions the composer Schumann, people generally think of Robert Schumann. However, his wife Clara Schumann was also a pianist and composer. Born in Leipzig in 1819, she gave her first performance when she was only nine years old and had her first complete solo concert when she was eleven. Her father, a music teacher, taught her and was Robert Schumann's music teacher as well.

Her father was not happy when Robert Schumann courted Clara and refused to give his consent to a marriage. Clara and Robert petitioned the court to get permission to marry without her father's ok. It was granted and they married one day before she was 21, when she could have married without her father's blessing. She continued to perform and compose during her marriage and after Robert Schumann's death. She was a friend of Johannes Brahms, and was the first pianist to perform his work. She also premiered pieces by Frederic Chopin and her husband, Robert Schumann.

Although she was professionally very successful, her personal life was filled with tragedy. Robert Schumann attempted suicide when she was in her mid- thirties and he spent the rest of his life in an insane asylum. Four of her eight children died young and she became the caretaker of their children. One son, like his father, was committed to an insane asylum.

In 1878 she was appointed teacher of the piano at the Hoch Conservatory at Frankfurt. She taught there until 1892. She had a stroke and died in 1896 before her 77th birthday.

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